Art and Manipulations

What is art? “Art is in the eye of the beholder.” Says the old cliché.

Original work: Félix González-Torres Depiction: Ken Lund – https://www.flickr.com/photos/kenlund/42514872465/

Picture of Félix González-Torres‘ participatory sculptural installation “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) (1991) at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018. A pile of candies wrapped in many-colored cellophane sits against the wall in the corner of a gallery.

In 1991, Félix González-Torres, a minimalist artist, piled 175lbs (12.5 stones) of candy into a corner of the Art Institute of Chicago with the title, Untitled ( Portrait of Ross in LA).One hundred and seventy pounds was Ross Laycock’s healthy weight before he was stricken with HIV and died of AIDS the same year as the exhibition. Ross was Felix’s boyfriend. Felix wanted to convey his loss and start a conversation about HIV/AIDS when no one wanted to talk about it. Museum goers were encouraged to take a piece of candy. In this respect, they were taking a piece of Ross, consuming art made in his memory. Felix Gonalez-Torres left it up to museums to decide if they wanted to replenish the candy or not. This decision is where the art installation speaks to me the most.

The pile is not refilled

The pile of candy diminishes until there is nothing left. Ross, like some of my own friends and family having wasted away until their disease consumed them.

Re-filling the pile

The body is gone, but their memory remains. By making his art installation candy and sharing it with other he shares the memory of Ross with us. Ross Laycock remains in memory, in pictures, and in written word.

Félix González-Torres passed away of AIDS in 1996. His art Installation Untitled (Lover Boys) ideally weighed 355lbs (25 stones) to represent the combined weight of their bodies when they were both healthy.

Untitled (Placebo) weighs 1,000-1,200 (454 – 544 kg) was an attempt to visualize the massive amount of pills the patient had taken in their life.

(Side Note: I made a conscious choice to use the artist’s first name when mentioning him after the first introduction, because his art was deeply personal and centered on self.)

Original work: Maurizio Cattelan Depiction: Sarah Cascone – https://news.artnet.com/market/maurizio-cattelan-banana-art-basel-miami-beach-1722516

Let’s put this in juxtaposition to Maurizio Cattelan, an absurdist artist, and his famous/infamous installation titled, Comedian. You’re more likely to be familiar with this one as “the banana that was duct taped to a wall” or Art Basal Banana. The banana was sold three times and eaten four times. Two people shelled out $120,0000 for it, another for $150,000 and the fourth ripped it off the wall and ate it, because he was a performance artist and that was his “performance art” of the day. (No, He didn’t discuss it with Maurizio Cattelan beforehand and I wish someone would bring these two together because I can’t decide if it would be an interesting conversation or some completely boring grandstanding on both their parts.)

Art and the rules regarding art are a funny thing. So, what did the people get that paid for their banana art installations? They get to replicate in their own homes, in front of people, and take pictures or videos of it over and over again (at the cost of fresh bananas) because they purchased the legal right to display it as an authentic version of the original.


Image Credit: Manas Bhatia

What happens when an architect asks an artificial intelligence program to design nature-inspired buildings? Lots of curves and monolithic housing complexes that look like giant trees. You also get buildings presented in that ultra-white white that modern architects love so much, but with a draping of green, at least in the few iterations that I saw. Manas Bhatia is an architect in New Delhi, India who wanted to see if the AI imaging tool Midjourney could help him build cities of the future. While the concept art is computer-generated it still took Bhatia hours to find the right words to create text-based writing prompts that generated the kinds of images he wanted. His prompts included words like, bioluminescent material, symbiotic and futuristic towers.

Image Credit: Manas Bhatia

Does this make Manas Bhatia the artist? Or the AI program?

This is a big debate in the art world now and rightly so in my opinion.

Each time we advance the field of technology new rules of social order are formed. We talk about “business ecosystems” and have to clarify buildings as “the built environment” as opposed to things like the “cloud construction” of data networks. A person can no longer define themselves as an “Engineer” without being asked: “What kind of engineer?”

Physical? Electrical? Computer? Or one of the more than dozens of other kinds of engineers?

I predict that we will now need new and more defined roles as artists. Visual Artists (as they were formally known) and not the only ones who work is being invaded by AI. I am first and foremost a writer and I’ve already seen where the future of ‘predictive text” is going. I’ve already seen advertisements for programs that can “write your novel for you.” How do I feel about this as an artist? In a word, hostile. When I’m writing my emails and predictive text makes their suggestions about what word I’m going to use next I will intentionally pick a different word to use as “screw you!”

Even better is when the email software tells me that my word choices are “unprofessional” because its usually when I’m writing family or friend. If I started writing in a professional manner towards my friends, they would prompt write back asking “What’s wrong?” “Are you okay?’ “Are you mad at me?”

Do you find this auto-text helpful? Yes, or No? I always say “No” and when it prompts the question, “Why is the auto-text not helpful?” I write in the comment box, “Because I’m the fucking writer!”

I know full well my little act of rebellion amounts to nothing. It would take an army of people to answer no and provide the same comment before it ever escalated to the “value” of being seen by human eyes at Microsoft or Google. I use both. I have no loyalty when it comes to corporations. I suppose I could borrow some script kitties to make a bunch of bogus email accounts who all type random emails, click on “No” and comment fill “Because I’m the fucking writer!” but I’ve got bigger endeavors to attend too.

It’s all rather insane, but it’s only a symptom of a larger problem. Welcome to the information war! You’ve already been enlisted. I hope you didn’t think the war/mobilization/whatever you want to call it, in Ukraine was the only war going on now.

Pay attention to how people say things and not just what they say. What do you learn about the person and the message through their word choices?

Listen to politician, advertisements, and everyone else around you. Is what they say and what they mean the same thing? Are they being genuine?

When my son was four, I had him in a bike camp to learn how to ride. One day I arrived to pick him up wearing a stained and wrinkled old shirt because I’d been cleaning all day. When I got there one of the camp counselors quickly came over to me.

“First of all, I like your shirt.” She chirped.

“No you don’t.” I said tersely.

“Yeah, so anyways, your son had a rough day.” She continues.

He approached like he was coming off a battlefield and his side lost; all dusty and bloody, a tear in one pant knee, and his jaw set in a resigned grimace. I stopped listening to the woman. I’m sure the gist was to the effect of “Please don’t get mad and sue us.”

Walking back to the car, I acknowledged to my son that he’d had a rough day and told him I was proud of him. Maybe that wasn’t the day he’d learned to ride a bike, but he’d put in the work and tried.

When it comes to definitions there’s a difference between Nature-led and Nature-inspired. Nature-led means that we learn the rules of nature and work within nature’s framework of systems and organizations. Nature-inspired means that we look to nature for ideas and then go about making our own framework of systems and organizations. One of these could be the key to the survival of the human race. The other could be the key to our eventual annihilation. Am I being too dramatic to say such a thing? Well, we didn’t create the world, but some people are arrogant enough to pretend like we did! Beavers build a dam because it’s their home and they need to set up a successful environment for themselves. They don’t consider their impact on the greater environment at large. Humans are aware of their impact and often continue anyways, even when it negatively impacts the greater environment at large. They are just as disingenuous about saving the planet as the camp counselor pretending to like my nasty old shirt! There is no one country, politician, or corporation that can save us from our own arrogance. We, the collective people who make up our societies have to define our cultures by setting the rules.

We choose through our cultural acceptance or rejection whether a pile of candy in the corner of a museum is art, a banana duct taped to a wall, or an architect’s concept image created through AI software by using words. We also have choose whether we’re willing to buy the messaging from politicians, advertisers, businesses and people around us when they say they are making a commitment to the health and well-being of others and the places we inhabit.

I’m not against technology. I use it and consider it an amazing tool and resource, but it’s different than a hammer or a knife. I don’t have to worry about a hammer assuming implied consent to do or say things on my behalf.

Words matter, art matters, and our understanding of their interpretations matters. We are the rule makers and rule breakers. We decide what is culturally relevant and acceptable. There is a cabal of people who would love to make a job out of doing your thinking for you.

Links:

 Why did Félix González-Torres put free candy in a museum? – Public Delivery

Félix González-Torres – Wikipedia

The Art Basel Banana, Explained | Vogue

An architect asked AI to design cities of the future. This is what it proposed – CNN Style

Who should get the credit for AI art? – CNN Style


Current Blog Post Schedule: One a month

I need to focus on my books-in-progress: The Nature-led Life, The Nature-Led Society, and my collection of five dark medieval tales (Title TBD).


Reminder: “A Tree” Photo submission is due September 30th. Photos will be featured in a post On October 1st. I currently have eight submissions, but more are always welcome! It could always be split into a Part 1 and Part 2 if we get a lot of submissions. Please provide as a .JPEG or .PNG file, General location (State/Province & Country), your name/the Artist’s name, and a link to your website if you have one. Email to: natureledlife@gmail.com Subject: September Submission

The Prize: My love and gratitude for participating.

Final Note:

All Image rights and credits belong to their respective owners. Used here with the understanding of Fair Use w/ Credit Attribution for the purpose of a single post discussion. This site is non-commercial and does not sell or distribute anything. Images will be immediately removed upon request by their respective owners.

Our New Green Overlords

Leaf Sheep Sea Slug, costasiella kuroshimae, supplements it’s diet of algae by photosynthesis. Image found online. Original photo credit unknown.

Back in the years circa 2004 to 2007 there were several scientific journals discussing the potential uses of algae. Something most of us think about with distain. We often think of algae as something that either inconveniences us by making a surface slick or something that can make us sick. Fortunately, the Science-minded people also ask, how can we harness the properties of algae?

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes Science-minded people come up with terrible ideas. They can get so carried away with “Can I?” that they don’t stop long enough to ask the question, “Should I?” This the basic premise behind the 1896 novel The Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells. (For context, The Origin of Species was published by Charles Darwin in 1859 and the subsequent theories of Darwinism were at the forefront of the social minds of the day.)

I’m consciously using the term “Science-minded” because I don’t believe that a person needs to hold a degree from a prestigious university to be a “science-minded” person. You only have to be willing to explore your ideas with a sensible set of standards that can be shared and replicated by another person. By this perspective, science is not so different from art in many ways. I know not everyone shares this perspective though.

When I first moved to Seattle in 1998 to attend the University of Washington, I lived in a house with six other college roommates. One of my roommates was a Danish fellow studying material science. In the beginning, he always had this smile on his face as if everything I said amused him. So, I “dragged the cat out of the bush” as we poor rural American folk might say and asked him if all Danes were elitist snobs or just him? He was surprised at first then said, “Well you are studying a ‘Soft Science’ major.” Apparently, Social Science (aka Sociology) is not real science because it’s not “hard science.”

We had many good discussions after this first exchange. It was important to me to illustrate that anything that worked towards the betterment and/or understanding of the human race was no less important than the flesh and bone that we are made of. It has been my passion since then to be a bridge builder between different personalities and schools of thought for a common cause. My new mission is to marry all that with the belief that nature is not our adversary, but our ally in making the world better for all species and the health of the planet itself.

Why can’t electric cars be solar-powered?

Because they don’t have enough surface space for the photovoltaic cells to collect enough solar energy for the battery to be reasonably recharged.

Science-minded researchers then must ask themselves questions like; How can we take advantage of the full surface of the vehicle then? Most obvious solutions would be either by the paint or the material the vehicle is made of. In the links below you can see that algae has been added to bricks to store carbon and as a pigment for natural dyes, but not currently for solar storage or transference.

I have two hypothesis based on the current uses of algae: 1. What if it could be used to help collect solar energy for electric vehicles by adding some sort of film or layer? And 2. What if it could help insulate people in desert regions from extreme heat? Something similar in idea to Frank Herbert’s Stillsuits in his 1965 novel Dune.

Sometimes I think of the realm of magic and fiction writing as science concepts we don’t yet understand. There are charlatans that claim to be scientists and charlatans who claim they can tell you your future. Remember when bloodletting was a thing? Or when germs were thought to be a superstition? Invisible bugs you say? Hogwash! We are flesh and bone and blood. We are hair and teeth and nails. We are mucus and sperm and eggs. We are mind, body and spirit. We are a lot of things and so too are many elements in the natural world including photosynthetic eukaryotic organisms (Chlorophyta, i.e. algae) and heterotrophic eukaryotic organisms (fungus, i.e. mushrooms). Our own digestive systems are unique biomes unto themself with their own specialized organisms in the form of bacterial flora!

What I like about using algae or fungi to help solve global problems is that it does not require digging into mountains for more metal alloys. It is nurturing truly sustainable options that have what environmentalists call a “cradle to the grave” lifecycle. We are not left with polluted waters or land and deplorable working conditions to extract or attempt to recycle it.

I for one look forward to our new green overlords.

What if we could learn to photosynthesize to supplement our diets?

Algae links:

The Leaf Sheep: Meet The Sea Slugs That Can Photosynthesize – Planet News

Cutting Construction’s Climate Impact with Algae Bricks | TIME

Studying ways to maximize environmental benefits of green algae (phys.org)

Brilliant Planet – A company working to sequester gigatons of carbon by absorbing it through algae and burying it.

Scientists Power Computer Continuously For A Year Using Algae (unilad.com)

These robots are powered by algae balls living inside (fastcompany.com)

Researchers created eco-friendly, biodegradable flip flops made from algae | CNN

How Pond Scum Could Lead to Eco-Friendly Fabric and Paint | WIRED